7 ways to communicate your research to a wider audience

By Amerigo Allegretto, The Science Advisory Board contributing writer

May 19, 2021 -- You've just wrapped up the perfect research study. But how can you let the wider world know about your discovery? Disseminating research to a broader audience was the subject of a May 15 talk at the 2021 International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) virtual meeting.

There are a number of opportunities to use various media channels that allow for creativity when communicating complex research to general audiences -- including channels led by scientists, according to Lucina Uddin, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Miami and director of the university's cognitive and behavioral neuroscience division.

"Key to all types of science communication is engaging with authenticity, authority, and enthusiasm," Uddin said.

While scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals are standard, for researchers to have a maximum effect on society, it is essential that they also communicate their findings to a broader audience outside of specialized areas, she noted.

Traditionally, op-eds in large newspapers such as the New York Times or the Washington Post have been a primary way to reach these audiences. However, with communication faster and more accessible now, scientists can also promote their work or give expert analysis on health topics through social media sites, blogs, and podcasts.

Uddin presented seven tips for such communication:

  1. Tell "your" story: By using one's background, researchers can create compelling communications from unique angles. "Just because we're talking about science and we're going to have to be objective doesn't mean we can't bring our own backgrounds and viewpoints to interpret things," Uddin said.
  2. Publish, then parade: While discussing findings can be fun, it is still important to publish findings in peer-reviewed outlets -- the "coin of the realm" in academia.
  3. Seek opportunities: News outlets may contact researchers for topical expert analysis or commentary on new studies; however, Uddin said researchers should proactively seek ways to engage with wider audiences, such as reaching out to news editors to provide commentary.
  4. Be creative with your content: Uddin said researchers can have fun with how they communicate their findings on social media. For example, she showed how video and graphics can be used to engage with lay people.
  5. Be consistent with your posting: With consistent posting on blogs or social media, researchers can maintain conversations with readers and viewers without disappearing.
  6. Put everything on your CV: Researchers can add a section to their CVs highlighting blog posts, social media use, and other communications outreach, Uddin explained.
  7. Be kind (or at least civil): The temptation to enter into arguments with others on social media can present itself, but researchers should make attempts to be kind or civil when it comes to interacting with people online. "We're all humans behind the posts we create or see," she said.

Achieving wider recognition for their work can not only be personally gratifying for researchers but also make it easier for them to conduct future investigations, improving their ability to get funding.

"Nowadays, many funding agencies are requiring or encouraging researchers to think more broadly in terms of the impacts of their science and their findings for society," Uddin said.

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